Museum Of Anthropology And Ethnography Essay





Ethnographic museums have a long and distinguished history but they have also been the subject of criticism and complaint. During the second half of the twentieth century they therefore underwent something of an identity crisis. More recently however, many of these institutions have been remodeled or rethought and visitor numbers have only increased. The conference seeks to analyse these shifts and to ask what the remit of an ethnographic museum should be in the twenty first century. The conference marks the culmination of a five-year research project funded by the European Commission and involving ten major European ethnographic museum.

In 2008 the initial aim of the ‘Ethnography Museums and World Cultures’ (EMWC) project was to encourage ethnographic museums to “redefine their priorities” in response to “an ever more globalizing and multicultural world” but an even more fundamental question has arisen in the course of the project: what is the future of ethnographic museums? In order to address this question fully, a distinguished group of scholars from around the world will speak at the Oxford 2013 conference and contributions will be made by representatives of the museums involved with the EMWC project. This conference aims to stimulate debate about ethnographic museums in the post-colonial period and to envision new ways of thinking and working in those museums in the future. It will be of interest to academics, curators, policy makers and anyone who has ever been stimulated by a visit to an ethnographic museum.

The Future of The Ethnographic Museum - essay authored by the conference convenors | Anthropology Today | February 2013

Speakers and paper titles:

  • Professor James Clifford (University of California at Santa Cruz): Keynote on The Future of the Ethnographic Museum
  • Professor Annie Coombes (Birkbeck College, University of London): Making a Difference with Material Culture: reconciliation and remembrance in Kenyan community peace museums.
  • Dr. Clare Harris (University of Oxford): The Digitally Distributed Museum and its Discontents
    Professor Corinne Kratz (Emory University, Atlanta): What Makes exhibitions Ethnographic?
  • Professor Sharon Macdonald (University of Manchester): Cultural Difference: nationhood and the making of citizens in Europe’s ethnographic museums
  • Dr. Wayne Modest (Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam): Proximities: Ethnographic Museums in an Age of Mobility
  • Professor Ruth Phillips (Carleton University, Ottawa): The Knowledge of Ravens, or the Unfinished Work of the Ethnographic Museum
  • Professor Kavita Singh (Jawaharla Nehru University, New Delhi): The Future of the Museum is Ethnographic
  • Professor Nick Thomas (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge): The Importance of Being Anachronistic.

Conference Convenors

Michael O’Hanlon, Director, Pitt Rivers Museum
Clare Harris, Curator for Asian Collections, Pitt Rivers Museum

Conference Activities

In addition to two days of lectures and discussion the conference will include:

  • A drinks reception in the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum
  • A conference dinner in Keble College
  • A performance by the acclaimed musician Nathaniel Robin Mann
  • A late night, torch-lit event in the Pitt Rivers Museum with music  from around the world
  • Poster presentations
  • Publishers stalls
  • Networking opportunities

Conference Brochure and Programme

Download the conference brochure and programme (pdf)

Ethnography Museums and World Cultures Project Museums – representatives from these museums will be participating in the conference:

  • Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium
  • Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France
  • Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna, Austria
  • National Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands
  • Museo de América, Madrid, Spain
  • Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico ‘Luigi Pigorini’, Rome, Italy
  • Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
  • Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom

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This essay discusses the recent past of ethnographic museums and raises questions about their future. In the last thirty years or so, ethnographic museums have faced many challenges arising both from within and beyond anthropology to the extent that in the post-colonial and post-modern era they could be said to have suffered an identity crisis. Many have been renamed, remodelled or rehoused in spectacular new premises (such as the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris). Only a few have remained largely unaltered, as at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford where the authors of this essay are employed. Drawing on the theoretical literature in museum anthropology and material culture, many years of ‘hands on’ curatorial experience and the insights gained from a five year collaborative research project involving ten major ethnographic museums in Europe, the authors investigate how ethnographic museums might engage with new audiences and new intellectual regimes in the future.

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